Sunday, September 29, 2013

Holy Leisure

Leisure is one of the foundations of Western culture. Josef Pieper, who wrote a wonderful little book entitled Leisure, the Basis of Culture, sums up his basic point in one sentence: “Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with the cultus, with divine worship.”

But what, we might ask, is the specific link between divine worship and leisure? Pieper points out that worship entails festivals, celebrations, and that the festival is actually the origin of leisure and remains the inward and ever-present meaning of leisure. There is hardly a more basic example of this in our Judeo-Christian tradition than the celebration of the Sabbath, keeping holy the Lord’s Day. There we have divine worship, celebration, leisure and culture all intimately interrelated. Leisure that doesn’t celebrate and enjoy something that touches the core of who we are probably tends “to fritter our time away.”

Ordinary experience teaches us that we need leisure if we are to “listen to the essence of things,” to intuit and not just think about reality within us and around us, to have that simple vision “to which truth offers itself like a landscape to the eye.” Our greatest intuitions usually visit us in moments of leisure, in those silent and receptive moments in which we are sometimes blest by an awareness of what holds the world together. To put it very simply, leisure means not being busy and preoccupied, but letting things happen. We could even say that leisure is a form of silence, that silence which lets us take in reality.

Excerpts from a Chapter talk given by Father Dominic, Prior of the monastery.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Besides this obligation to responsible stewardship, the other characteristic that defines a good servant is the ability to wait with heightened vigilance for the Master’s return. Love knows how to wait because, when the object of his love appears to be absent, the true lover will refuse to put another in its place.  The apparent absence of God, or if you wish God’s invisibility, challenges our love and fidelity to live continually by faith. As we heard, “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen”. Our whole Christian existence should be shaped by absolute trust in Jesus’ promise to return to us as King of Glory. Our expectancy of Jesus, no matter how protracted, is not a mere upward gazing at an empty sky with open mouth. No:  Awaiting Jesus to show himself ought to motivate us to the most concrete attitudes and actions that will show that we, the little flock, the sons and daughters, the servants, are here and now the Body of Jesus filling the world with his presence and goodness. Jesus lives right now in the world and within history through us!  We are the presence of Jesus.  Do we really believe this, enough to act on it, enough to allow our hearts to be radically changed so as to become more fitting vessels for the life of God to inhabit this world?

Photograph by Brother Jonah. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Now cool early autumn mornings, and yesterday the Memorial of Saint Pio. One of the brothers showed us this old photograph of the saint. Usually the wounds of his stigmata were kept bandaged and hidden from sight. But here as a young friar with his arms folded gently, the round wounds on his hands are exposed to view. We too usually hide our wounds if we can, I suppose we think it appropriate, after all we do not want to attract attention or look for sympathy, or appear like martyrs. But after his resurrection readily Jesus shows his wounds, his open heart. Jesus will always be wounded, full of holes. His body, the body that we are, is always like that.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


A fairly large group of freshmen from a local college visited the monastery yesterday. They were respectful and attentive, as they attended None from the back of the Abbey church. Before they departed one of them, a non-Catholic young man, asked gently, "Why do you all keep bowing all the time?" We told him about reverencing the altar and the reserved Blessed Sacrament (as it is Cistercian protocol that we genuflect only when just in front of the tabernacle.) And of course we bow at the end of each psalm for the doxology, the Gloria Patri...

It is a wonderful question though. Why bow? It is because in fact our life is meant to be entirely one of reverence, incessant reverence. We bow because of our awareness of our need and desire to honor God even with bodies as well as with our prayers; we bow to remember that His presence is here with us and that His Name is holy. Why not bow? We must bow! 

Two Monks Bowing, Stanley Roseman, 1979, chalk on paper,  35 x 50 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Invitation

Today we celebrated our monthly Mass for vocations. As Father Dominic reminded us at the beginning of this morning's Eucharist, all is mercy, Christ's mercy. All our work is response to the One who invites and draws us into His friendship and service.  We pray for our current candidates and new aspirants who may join us here in this School of the Lord's Service.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Father Francis

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Mt. 5
Father Francis entered the Cistercian Order in 1973 at our monastery in Azul, Argentina, a daughterhouse of Spencer. He later transferred to our monastery in 1980. Father Francis has a great love for the Liturgy, and the beauty of our celebrations drew him to our house. He has served the community in numerous ways in the past thirty-three years. Francis was guesthouse cook and assistant guestmaster. A gifted tailor, Father worked for many years in the Abbey wardrobe mending clothes and making monastic habits. Presently Father Francis is spiritual adviser for the Abbey's Cistercian Lay Contemplative group, for men and women who feel called to share in our vocation while still living and working in the world. 
Father tells us, "During my years of monastic life lectio divina has revealed to me the face of the Lord. And it's very exciting. I could not be a person who prays without lectio divina." His brothers are grateful for his example of steadfastness and true dedication to prayer.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Hail precious cross that received honor and beauty from the limbs of the Lord! Hail cross that was hallowed by the body of Christ and by his limbs was enriched as with pearls.

We exalt in the Cross of Christ because this Cross is a throne upon which Love has triumphed and transformed our pain, misery, human fragility and foolishness into a royal gateway to life and hope and immortality. Death no longer has the last word in our lives, the Love of the wounded and risen Lord Jesus does. 
The Crucifixion, ca. 1315–20. Attributed to Ugolino da Siena  (Italian, Siena, active by 1317–died ?1339/49). Tempera on wood, gold ground. Overall with engaged frame, 25 1/4 x 18 5/8 ". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Saint Bernard says that above all what has drawn God to Mary is her humility. God finds it absolutely irresistible. Certainly we will come to our humility by a route very different than Our Lady’s, but it can give us the same irresistible quality. We can do it through our sinfulness, acknowledging that we have nothing to boast of before God but our weakness. It is after all the only thing about myself that I am absolutely confident about. Problem is it’s also the one thing I most want to deny. But this reality, this humility lets God be God. Said another way, when things fall apart then God can be God. Through Mary, God has chosen to be part, integral part of our fragmentation. As we celebrate today the "Name of Mary," we rejoice in the beauty and example of her humility and availability to all God desired to give her.
We post here a brief video of our procession to Mary's shrine on Assumption Day last month.

Video taken by Brother Jonah.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Fittingly on this twelfth anniversary of 9/11, we celebrate our monthly Requiem Mass and Offices for the Dead.
The Abbey cemetery nestled in the corners of the south cloister. Photo by Brother Anthony Khan.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Our life begins from scratch as a result of the call and our response to it, and this is why our specific vocation, and the life-form in which it casts us, is the full realization and ultimate consequence of our baptismal rebirth. Out of our nothingness Jesus shapes disciples, capable of understanding the motivations of his heart and obeying his will: capable, that is, of helping God and bringing delight to God!

Like a sculptor or potter Jesus is creating what he wants out of the shapeless clay of our natural persons, choosing us and taking us just as he finds us.  By going toward him we are entrusting ourselves fully into his creating and molding hands.  This movement toward Jesus, a real paschal  “exodus” out of our previous existence, requires courage and generosity because we know we shall not remain the same, and such awareness is, for our poor fallen nature, both thrilling and frightening.  Everything in our persons, histories, attitudes and lifestyle must now change, and continue evolving according to God’s secret design.

Photograph of Spencer sunrise by Charles O'Connor. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

For Peace

Following our Holy Father's exhortation, his "cry for peace," we observe a day of special prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. We feel helpless viewing scenes of pain and suffering, reading news reports from a far off land. On this Saturday of Our Lady we beg her to teach us how to be peacemakers.

Photograph by Brother Jonah.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Countercultural Commitment

A serious commitment to Christ leads to values that are countercultural. As Pope Benedict said, “To believe in God means allowing his commandments to guide the concrete choices one makes every day, even when the values reflected in the choices are countercultural.” “A Christian,” he said, “must not be afraid to go against the current in order to live his or her faith, resisting the temptation of conformity” to secular culture. Pope Francis echoed this sentiment in a homily he gave at the closing Mass of World Youth Day in Brazil.  He said, “In a culture of relativism and the transitory, many preach the importance of enjoying the moment. I ask you instead to be revolutionaries. I ask you to swim against the tide, yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and ultimately believes that you are incapable of true love.”

From Jesus we receive the challenge to be a “sign of contradiction.” The monastic life has always been countercultural. Separation from the world, silence, a common life and sanctifying the hours of the day with prayer are not the values of secular culture, in fact they are the opposite. God has called each one of us here to illumine the darkness. You only need one small flame to ignite a large fire, but it has to be protected from the wind or it will be extinguished and smolder. 

Photo by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Emmanuel.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Brother Michael

Brother Michael received the novices' habit during this Sunday's Chapter. Michael came to us after many years as a successful funeral director in Pittsburgh. He brings gifts of faithfulness and generosity. We pray for his perseverance with us in the monastic life.  

In his chapter talk given after Brother's clothing ceremony, Abbot Damian shared with us words from a recent address of Pope Francis to the Augustinians. "Augustine does not close in on himself, he does not rest, he continues to search for the truth, the meaning of life, he continues to search for the face of God. Of course he makes mistakes, he also takes wrong paths, he sins, he is a sinner; but he does not lose the restlessness of the spiritual quest. And in this way he discovers that God was waiting for him...that He never gave up looking for him first."

Brother John, junior professed; Brother Daniel, Submaster of Novices; Brother Michael; Father Luke, Novicemaster; Brother Stephen, junior professed.

May our Brother Michael and all of us remember always that God is searching and longing for each one of us.

Photographs by Brother Jonah.